What is the role of fasting, or detoxification?

According to ayurveda, weak digestion can lead to accumulation of ama (the toxic byproduct of improper digestion). This ama then deposits in the joints, muscles, and other connective tissues, causing pain, stiffness, and fatigue, depression, weight gain, and other symptoms. One of the main approaches we adopt in managing chronic health problems is the reduction and elimination of ama through detoxification.  There are some very helpful approaches for this that you can try at home:

Self-care procedures for detoxification (ama pachana)

  1. Be sure to use plenty of the following spices with your cooking: ginger, cumin, black pepper, fennel, hing, basil, mustard seeds.
  2. Eat your main meal at midday! Dinner should be light, i.e. soup with toasted flatbread or cooked cereal with warm milk.
  3. No snacking after dinner!
  4. Ginger pickle: To prepare this, take a few slices of fresh ginger, and place them in a small cup or bowl. Squeeze the juice from a lemon over the ginger, add a little salt, and let the ginger soak in the lemon for an hour or so. Have this before lunch.
  5. First thing in the morning, have a glass of warm water with a teaspoon of raw honey and a squirt of lemon.
  6. “Hot-water routine”: This means frequent sips of hot water throughout the day.
  7. 24-hour liquid fast once a week. This provides a great tool for resetting agni and reducing ama.  

We advise patients to do the 24-hour liquid fast from lunch to lunch. The patient eats a normal lunch, then takes nothing solid until lunch the next day. We are not requiring zero calories for 24 hours, just nothing solid. You can have juices, milk, purees, and so on, for both dinner and breakfast. For example, instead of solid foods for dinner, have a glass of warm milk, or cook up some vegetables and puree them in their cooking water in a sturdy glass blender. Likewise, for breakfast, have some tea, warm milk, or some fresh squeezed juice.

Scientific data support the traditional ayurvedic recommendation of fasting as an approach for managing chronic pain. Fasting and caloric restriction have been shown to provide marked anti-inflammatory and mood enhancing effects. In one study, fasting followed by a vegetarian diet led to significant reductions in pain and joint inflammation for patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

  1. Digestive decoction recipe: (We advise against using this decoction if there is a pitta imbalance, such as symptoms of frequent heartburn, or reflux.) Boil 1 quart of water with 1 tsp cumin seeds, 1 tsp coriander seeds, 1 tsp fresh grated ginger, ½ tsp fresh lemon juice, and 2 pinches of black pepper. You may add 1 tsp of raw sugar to taste if desired, as well as 2 pinches of black salt if it is available. Place in a thermos and sip throughout the day (not in the evening). This decoction can be used in place of the plain hot water suggested as part of the hot water routine.
  1. Ginger 14-day program: (Do not do this ginger protocol if you have frequent heartburn or other symptoms of gastric hyperacidity.) On day 1, chew 1 slice of fresh ginger first thing in the morning. Breakfast should be very light, or skipped. Each subsequent day add an addition slice of ginger for a total of 7 days. On day 8, repeat seven slices of ginger and taper one slice less per day until day 14, when you have only one slice again.
Fourteen-Day Ginger Program
Day # of slices of ginger
1 1
2 2
3 3
4 4
5 5
6 6
7 7
8 7
9 6
10 5
11 4
12 3
13 2
14 1
  1. Sweating is good for reducing ama. This can be accomplished by periodically visiting the sauna.

These guidelines for ama reduction can help with chronic pain, fatigue, depression, stiffness, and other  chronic symptoms.